Monday, November 5, 2007

Smells Like My Grandma...

At least three times in the past week or so, I've entered a space, be it elevator or bathroom stall, following a woman of elderly persuasion, and been overwhelmed by a very familiar perfume smell, both pungent and intensely floral, causing me to, well, feel dizzy, then remark out loud "Smells like Grandma." This has brought me to wonder why it is that all grandmothers seem to wear the same perfume. And though it may not be the exact same brand of "Spring Flowers" from Crabtree & Evelyn (as I suspect one of the offending perfumes to be) but that there seems to be a cultural consensus on strength and specificity of floral scent appealing to this certain generation of women (and, perhaps implicity, their generation of men). Two questions emerge: the specific "why strong flower smell" question and "Why a generationally consistent perfume choice?"

To the first question, I wonder if the strong smell has to do with the difference in scent strengths in the 1940's- different chemical potentcies? Or strong smell as a status symbol in the depression era maybe? Or does strong perfume have more to do with weakened senses of smell by the wearers and their spouses? Will we wear stronger perfume as we get older to remind ourselves that we are still feminine? To cover the encroaching medicinal and bodily smells that are travesties of how deliciously we smell coming into the world as powder-fresh babies? I don't know the answer to any of these.

The second question of why a whole age of women would seem to wear the same perfume (and to my memory, my grandma has smelled this way for the 28 years I've known her) brings me to a recurring thought about when certain practices, preferences and abilities seem to solidify. I've heard various theories around this question, such as that:

1) women tend to dress in the style of the era during which they felt themselves to be at their personal peak of sexual attraction (why so many of our grandmothers still wear 1950's perms).
2) One's abiblity to draw stalls at the age that you stop doodling. Thus explaining why I draw at the level of a twelve year old.
3) Drug addiction causes emotional development to halt at the age one started abusing- ie: drug addicts with the emotional maturity of 14 year olds.

Now, please notice the above statement that these are theories and I don't neccesarrily agree or with any of them as law or generalized truths, but a lot makes sense about settling into what we think works either concsiously out of comfort, or subconsiously through seeming lack of options.

Which leads to me posit that in the 2030's there'll be a lot of grandmas smelling like Posion and Obsession, and around 2057 or so, there may be a lot of grandmas smelling like vanilla or CK One. I don't know which will be worse, but in the case of CKOne, grandmas and grandpas might all smell the same. Sorry grandkids...

12 comments:

garth said...

I remain an avid doodler, and yet my drawing ability is frozen at about age 7 or 8. Maybe I'm not doodling hard enough.

Garth said...

I think it's interesting how people's concept of the value of money seems to remain frozen once they stop cooking (and hence) shopping for themselves. When I take my grandmother out to eat, she acts like I'm bankrupting myself to buy her an $8 lunch special.

MackAttack said...

Hi Kj, I still use Dream (by Gap) and I've used it since I was 14 years old... you probably remember the smell. And that makes sense I'm still using it, cause that's about when my drug addiction started.

:) or not. But I do use Dream! I can still hear Erin Blakemore saying "oooooh, you smell dreamy!!" when she'd hug me in the morning at scpa.

Kj said...

A twist on Garth's cooking comment, I have a personal theory that my ability and mentality around cooking locked in place at the age I had to start cooking for myself when my parents stopped cooking family meals when I was in seventh grade. Hence, why I still literally only cook macaroni & cheese and pasta for myself- and rarely keep groceries that need refridgeration- I'm still working at a 13 year old's ability. And I've tried in so many states, in so many apartments, to develop beyond this capacity, but have found it nearly imposible.

Holly Grigsby said...

omg this means one day i will be a 70 yr old walking around spreading the aroma of debbie gibson's "electric youth".....awesome

Kj said...

HA! And Holly, I still have not recoevered from the brilliance of your Mamaw costume- you captured tacky southern granny disturbingly well... Now we know both what you'll look like at 75 and what you'll smell like.

Keepitmoving said...

Since my style now in life is quite grandma...I always wonder what I'll be like as an actual grandma. Will I stop knitting and baking cookies for small children and embrace a "younger" lifestyle?? I doubt I'd ever wear my high school perfume again (sun moon & stars can stay in the sky!) I certainly don't think of that period as my prime, eek!

Keepitmoving said...

Oh and someone please save us if Grandmas end up smelling like vanilla!

Kj said...

i freaking hate vanilla perfumes, and apologies to anyone this offends, but I have major judmental attitudes about girls who smell like vanilla. i sometimes want to punch them a lot...

Holly Grigsby said...

o shit. first happy feet. now the knowledge that the mere smell of me makes you gag (vanilla body spray is pretty much permanently etched into my pores). you could have died if we had lived together.

Mary Deal said...

I want to know the name of the pungent perfume women wore in the 1940s. You describe it well. Have been looking for the name and description for a book I'm writing about my mother. She called it WWII perfume. Is it the same perfume in the picture? Thank you.

Kj said...

Mary, I wish I knew- the crabtree and evelyn "Spring" is a guess based on having smelled it a couple times in the store and having the "smells like grandma" reaction, but I'm pretty positive that that perfume isn't more than 20 years old. maybe a way to track it down is to ask some perfume counter salespeople at JC penny or places where you think women over 75 might be shopping, and ask them what age ranges seem to prefer. I'd also see what perfumes the home shopping networks sell- might be a hint there.

i'd love to know anything you track down. fell free to comment in the future.

sorry i don't know more- i was just musing on observations i'd made, but it's neat to hear that its a detail that matters in telling stories of the women who came before us. Good luck with you book.